Micheal DeanLucas Gebhart

Sports Editor

Last season, the Idaho State football team ranked dead last in nearly every offensive category as the team rounded out its second consecutive 2-9 season. The 2017 campaign has been a different story.

Idaho State is off to its best start since 2005 and ranks fourth in the Big Sky Conference in total offense. This was achieved by simplifying the playbook from a year ago.

Idaho State has scored 30 or more points in five of its six games and are averaging 31.8points-per game. Last season, the Bengals averaged 24.2 point-per game, scored 30 or more on three occasions and scored seven points in three games.

“We’re running the same stuff we ran on the first day of spring ball,” said head coach Rob Phenicie. “Less is more.”

The 2016 offense, which was riddled with injuries on the offensive front, ranked 12th in the Big Sky in scoring offense, last in rushing and seventh in passing.

Nine different players started at five positions over the course of the eleven-game season on the offensive line last year.

Starting right tackle, Chase Collins, who is coming off two shoulder surgeries, didn’t make a single start last year due to his injury. Skyler Phillips, who moved from right to left tackle when Collins went down, started four games in 2016 before he was lost for the season. Left tackle Brian Fineanganofo, sat out the first four games of the season.

Thomas Vazorka, who’s now graduated, started the first two games at left guard, moved to right guard when Jacob Molenaar came off his injury, moved to right tackle when Cody Abbott came back last season, and then moved back to right guard when Abbott went down a second time, missed the last two games because of his injury.

Jacob Molenaar and Skyler Phillips did both leave the game last week for a brief period. Both player’s statuses are unknown for this Saturday’s game.

The health of the offensive line has allowed quarterback Tanner Gueller, who is now in his second full year as a starter, to be more comfortable in the pocket which has given more fluidity to the offense and has enabled them to stay on schedule.

“Trox is doing a good job of designing the weekly game plan and Tanner is doing a good job of excusing it on whether to run or throw,” Phenicie said on his quarterback. “We’re not asking him to win the game with his feet. He has gotten better each game this year and I think he’s getting a lot more comfortable with being in the system.”

After Flanagan ran for over 100 yards in the first two games, one of which was a road game at Utah State, Flanagan left the Nevada game in the first half with what appeared to be a leg injury, but returned on Saturday against Montana and in a timeshare with James Madison, who took over when Flanagan went down.

Following the injury, James Madison carried the ball 17 times for 88 yards against the Wolf Pack.

The following week at Northern Colorado, Madison carried 34 times for 253 yards and two touchdowns while Nehamiah McFarlin tallied nine carries for 78 yards and a score.

Against Cal Poly, Madison had another 20 carries for 80 yards. In the Northern Colorado game, Idaho State rushed for the most yards (335) that it has since 2001 and tallied the eighth most total yards (619) it has since 2004.

“We have four guys at that position that believe they should be starting,” Phenicie said.

This season Idaho State has already tallied 1,045 yards. Last season, Idaho State averaged 4.3 yards-per carry on the ground and only collected 1,280 yards on the season through 11 games.   

“We have a good group of guys,” Gueller said. “We have a lot of guys to throw the ball to and a lot of guys that run the ball well.”

Michael Dean, whose explosive 91-yard touchdown last season against Sacramento State, still stands as the longest offensive play since 2011, moved from running back to the slot.

Dean has scored five touchdowns on the year, all of which have been over 15 yards and three of which have been over 40 yards.

“I love it,” Dean said on moving to the slot. “I think the coaches are doing great with putting us in the right spot.”

Phenicie credits the balanced attack to taking what the defense gives them. Missed assignments are also way down from last season. He said that the group he coaches, receivers, saw just one busted assignment against Cal Poly while in previous years that number has been as high as eight in any given week.

“We are not forcing anything,” Phenicie said. “It’s just what the defenses are giving us.”

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